Gary Scelzi in the spotlight, Part II

Gary Scelzi Part 2 of 2 Q: What makes a championship-caliber driver? Scelzi: Desire. Desire and the fear of losing. No matter how much success you have, I think you have to live with fear. The fear of getting beat, the fear of what people...

Gary Scelzi

Part 2 of 2

Q: What makes a championship-caliber driver?

Scelzi: Desire. Desire and the fear of losing. No matter how much success you have, I think you have to live with fear. The fear of getting beat, the fear of what people might say about you, the fear of everything. I think you can call it paranoia. Paranoia and fear are good in this line of work. John (Force) is a good example of someone who is driven by those things. In the business that my brothers and I have at home, I am always scared that some young company is going to move in and kick our butts. It is the same thing out here. As long as you have that desire and you want to be the best and are open-minded, I think someone can stay on top.

Gary Scelzi, now in a funny car.
Photo by Greg Gage.

Q: How do you juggle a family with two small children, a business and a driving career?

Scelzi: Sometimes the stress level gets to be a record high and the only release you have is that race car. I have two great brothers that absolutely love me and run that business. I come back for a couple of weeks at a time and screw it up as best as I can and then I leave. I have a wife (Julie) that is very understanding. She knows how to read me and she never pushes my buttons. The kids sometimes makes it easier for me. They love their daddy and there is nothing better than bedtime when they want to snuggle with you and have you read them read a bedtime story. That makes all the bad things go away.

Q: Is it better to win races with a family behind you?

Scelzi: I think it is very empty without them. It used to kill me to be on the road for three weeks and have my little guy Dominic and only be able to talk to him on the phone. Especially now that he is 5 years old, he always asks when I am coming home. Giavanni will grab my leg as I am going out the door. There are going to be times when they can't come out to the race. It's hard, but knowing they are there is a very big deal. I wouldn't want to win without them. I wouldn't want to lose without them either.

Q: Is there a lot of pressure for your team to perform well early and win?

Scelzi: Maybe. Mike Neff and I are going to try very hard not to focus on that. But I can already see that look in his eyes that tells me how bad he wants to win. I am the same way. I think we need to do it early just to set a precedence. If it doesn't happen, we are going to work our way around it. We will win a race, at least. I would be very shocked if we didn't. I just want to get it done early. Mike has won with Bazemore, I have won with Alan, the guys working on the team have won, some of them with me on the Top Fuel team. I want all of these guys to know that we have all done different things, but this team, as one group, can be a winning combination.

Q: What do you need to do to get the team to work well quickly?

Scelzi: I think we are all doing it now. We have a lot of new guys, including me, but we all seem very comfortable around each other. One thing that goes on here in Schumacher Racing is that we have a lot of team discussions. We meet almost every morning as well as at the end of the day. Mike lays out his game plan then. He is a very strong leader. He is a very quiet guy to people that don't know him, but everybody here is on the same page as he is and Mike listens to everyone. He doesn't intimidate anyone on the team. He is very easy to talk to. Sometimes when a person is quiet, you may take that as arrogant, or stand-offish. Mike just has a grin. He teases me and we all tease each other on the team, already. That just helps form the closeness that we are going to need to make this Funny Car go down the track quickly and win races. If we don't get our first win early, and it comes three months down the road, four months maybe, I think we are still going to be OK. I think the foundation of this team is solid. I am putting that weight on my shoulders. I need to keep our team happy. I need to give Bazemore's team a bad time, Scotty's team a bad time. I need to be the mischief maker. I need to keep everyone happy by going down there to give Tony a noogie. (Tony Schumacher's crew chief) Wes Cerny came up to me during testing and he told me how happy he was to be part of this team and how happy he is that I am also part of the team. Wes is tuning Tony's car. That made me feel so good for Wes, someone I have always admired, to say that. I don't want to sound like I am full of it, but it really is scary good how things are going right now. If it can get even better, great. If it doesn't get any worse than this, then it is going to be a beautiful thing. I am just thrilled.

Q: What is the best thing about being part of Don Schumacher Racing?

Scelzi: I can be extremely proud to represent his team and Oakley. They are both extremely serious and successful. I can be proud to bring people to the hospitality area that is second to none, to the race shop that is filled with every single tool that this team needs to win a championship. It is deep. We're deep with talent, money, parts and desire. That is what is so good about being part of Schumacher Racing.

Q: Tell us about the fundraiser you just had in January.

Scelzi: We had the absolute best time. I told a lot of drivers that I wanted to help build a go-kart track in Fresno. I called Force, Del Worsham, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps, Davey Hamilton, who I knew from when he raced in the Valley and Brandon Bernstein. We had Alan Reinhart on the microphone for the event. They all jumped at the chance to help, got in a plane, and showed up to donate some stuff. It really meant a lot to me that these guys would help us. We had around 300 people there and we raised $98,000. That was huge. Everybody rallied behind the idea which meant a lot to me because these guys are my friends, my peers and we needed help and they didn't ask, they just dove in. We are building a track with the money. It is going to be called the San Joaquin Raceway Park. We are going to start the project in October and we are going to build a first-class national event go-kart track for the kids. People will be able to come from all over the United States because it will be a first-rate deal. The race track that has been there for about 40 years is just a pile. Kids spin out and they get in the dirt and they are just full of stickers and weeds. We have done a major clean-up job, we have gotten everything ready. We are getting the property bought and doing everything we can to make this happen. I have never done a fundraiser before. I have been to tons of them but never put one on. On the way over to the event I told Julie to pull over because I was going to be sick. I was so nervous that people weren't going to have a good time or that any of guys weren't going to make it. But it all turned out great.

Q: What do you look forward to the most when you are pulling up to the line?

Scelzi: Knowing that I am in one of the badest hot rods in the parking lot. I have everything it takes to win and that is all I have ever asked for. Every time I jump out of the race car I can say that I have one of the best things going in drag racing right now.

Q: Four months ago, did you think you would be in this situation?

Scelzi: Four months ago I was just about ready to give up. I went through a time when I put my motorhome up for sale and I had made a decision that I was not going to do it own my own. I was not going to drive something that wasn't capable of winning. It's hard enough to win when you have good things. I had to think about raising my family. I wanted to set an example for my kids. I wanted them to know that if I couldn't get a job driving a race car, I could go back to the business and that I can weld truck bodies, paint truck bodies and sell truck bodies, like I did before all of this stuff came along. I didn't know until after the Finals at Pomona that everything was going to be OK. It is a horrible feeling. It's pretty great to be Gary Scelzi now. Hopefully I can show the fans and everyone else how appreciative I am to be back out here. Not that I wasn't before, but you know what? Even on a bad day of racing, it is not as bad as a good day at work. It is all good now.

Part I


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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Davey Hamilton , Brandon Bernstein , Don Schumacher , Mike Neff , Tommy Johnson Jr.